Terence Blacker: There's more to animal welfare than sentimentality

For all its generosity towards animal charities, Britain is in urgent need of education

Share
Related Topics

It was, by any standards, something of a shock to discover that the British apparently care more about the plight of maltreated donkeys than maltreated women.

The three main charities for victims of rape, domestic violence and abuse have a combined annual income of £17m, according to a report by New Philanthropy Capital. A single donkey sanctuary in Devon received donations of £20m during 2006. Interviewed about these findings, Megan Pacey of the Institute of Fundraising commented that there was something in our nature that is more concerned about animals suffering than humans. "The whole British animal-loving public is partly what drives that," she said.

Two days later, another rich charity, the RSPCA, revealed that last year the British animal-loving public abandoned 23 per cent more of its pets than in 2006. Excuses for chucking the family pet out into the street included "my dog hurts my leg when she wags her tail" and "my cat doesn't match my new carpet".

There is something rather strange and skewed about British attitudes towards animals. Certainly the idea that we are an animal-loving nation needs to be consigned to the dustbin for mindless, inaccurate clichés. As a people, we have no greater fondness for animals than most of our European neighbours. What we do have, and in spectacular abundance, is a confused sentimentality towards animals. Many of those who like to have pets around them see them as living, breathing accessories. Pets are there to make them feel stronger, nicer, more decorative or interesting than they really are.

A certain amount of donkey-bashing took place in the media when New Philanthropy Capital published its report. Its comparison with women's charities turned out to be a clever, guilt-inducing headline-grabber, when really it was pointing up the most unsurprising of facts. Good causes which reflect the pain and humiliation of adults in our own society are tough to market; donkeys, belaboured, mistreated and cute, are considerably easier.

But the sneers directed at the residents of the Devon Donkey Sanctuary were misplaced. Much of the charity's money goes on its work around the world in mobile clinics, veterinary support and refuges for animals in developing countries – animals whose health is often essential to a family's economic wellbeing.

What estimable organisations like the Brooke Hospital for Animals are doing is more than relieving suffering; they are engaged in a campaign of international education about animal welfare and showing why it matters. In that sense, they are as much a charity for humans as for animals.

The idea behind that work is straightforward. When a family, or a society, treats its animals with respect and decency, it becomes saner, kinder and probably more productive. In this context, Britain, for all its generosity towards animal charities and its smug belief that it is a nation of animal-lovers, is also in urgent need of education.

Double standards have been around so long that they are no longer noticeable. The same public that gurgles with pleasure when a singing dog appears on Britain's Got Talent accepts – demands, in a commercial sense – deplorable and inhumane standards of meat production. There are hedgehog refuge centres across the country, but we transport animals hundreds of miles in cramped containers to be slaughtered. Pets are seen as amusing diversions until they become difficult or expensive, at which point they are abandoned.

The charity business reflects this picture. It is comforting to think of our money-making donkeys happier partly because their misery in the past is so remote from our experience. The feel-good factor is an essential part of the impulse to give.

Elsewhere in Europe, the treatment of domestically kept animals is taken rather more seriously. Last week, the Swiss announced that owning pets involves certain basic obligations which will now be enshrined in law. Dog-owners will be obliged to complete a practical and theoretical course on the treatment of their animals. Anglers will be instructed on how to catch fish humanely. Pets belonging to what are deemed "social species", a group which includes guinea pigs and budgerigars, will not be kept in isolation. Even goldfish will be protected by the law.

Goldfish, guinea pigs, the Swiss: it all sounds irresistibly funny, but these ideas are sensible. Pet laws may be unpopular and seem officious, but at least they encourage people to start thinking differently about what having power and control over another sentient being actually means. Once they get that right, other attitudes will also fall into place.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
New SNP MP Mhairi Black distinguished herself in Westminster straight away when she made herself a chip butty in the canteen  

The SNP adventure arrives in Westminister - but how long before these new MPs go native?

Katy Guest
The Public Accounts Committee found widespread concern among civil servants that they would be victimised if they spoke out about wrongdoing  

Nikileaks explained: The sad thing about the Nicola Sturgeon saga is that it makes leaks less likely

Jane Merrick
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?